Alums Navab, Nguyen showcase work in ‘Dialogues’ exhibition

School of Art graduates Nassem Navab and Anh-Thuy Nguyen participated in a compelling four-woman exhibition “Dialogues” at Tucson’s Yun Gee Park Gallery.

The show explored the challenges, discussions, interchanges and negotiations that take place when existing between multiple cultures. It ran through Nov. 12 at the gallery, 4226 E. 2nd St., with an opening reception on Oct. 15 and an artist talk with Nguyen on Nov. 3.

 Nassem Navab

Navab, who received an MFA in Studio Art in 2019, spent this summer in Iran researching and collecting ideas and images for her work in the exhibition. She works in various mediums, from 3D modeling to video, sound and photography.

Scott Duerstock, managing director of Yun Gee Park Gallery, said Navab’s work “conveys the sense of separation that she felt while in Iran of belonging and understanding the culture, yet being separated from full acceptance by repeatedly being identified as an ‘other.’”

“She accomplishes this through photographs taken while in Iran – where the subjects all face away from her – that are printed on glass with soldered brass frames that were salvaged from her family home’s coffee table,” said Durestock, who is a member of the School of Art Advisory Board.

Navab, now based in Brooklyn, New York, is an art instructor/lecturer at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.

“Domestic items from her childhood home are a pervasive theme in her work,” Durestock said. “This is the home in America where she was raised to understand Persian language and culture, but where she also learned American culture.

Navab’s series also features works of handmade paper created from Persian cucumbers, “symbolizing her separation from Iranian society by being perceived as Persian on the outside, yet white on the inside,” Durestock said.

Navab received her BA in Interdisciplinary Computing Arts and Media from the University of California, San Diego. In 2016, she presented her work at the State Center for the Arts in Tijuana (CEART Tijuana), Mexico. Navab was part of a traveling group show, “Someone to Ride the River With,” which has shown at various art galleries in the Southwest.

Nguyen, who received a BFA in Photography from the School of Art in 2010, is the head of photography at Pima Community College in Tucson.

In “Dialogues,” she’s created a multimedia installation that includes photography, video and sculpture.

“She explores language learning, where the act of endeavoring to learn correct pronunciation of the target language can result in the vocabulary of the language losing its meaning,” Durestock said, “eventually becoming unintelligible to both the language learner and the native speaker.”

Anh-Thuy Nguyen

Nguyen, who received her MFA in Photography/Video from Southern Methodist University, has exhibited and taught photography, painting, linoleum, performance art and concept-driven workshops nationally and internationally.

“As a Vietnamese-American artist, my primary artistic source material for the last decade has been my personal history and experiences as a female immigrant,” Nguyen said on her website. “Through my art making, I investigate my cultural and identity as well as my migration story through photography, video, installation and performance art.”

Her works are in permanent collections of Amarillo Museum of Art, Tucson Museum of Art, Center for Photography at Woodstock among others. She recently was awarded the Second Sight award from Medium Photo, and her work is on the front cover of Southwest Contemporary Magazine.

Paul Ivey: 4 things you might now know about ‘Woman-Ochre’ and de Kooning

By Andy Ober
University Communications

Willem de Kooning‘s painting “Woman-Ochre” has been in the international spotlight, thanks to its return to the University of Arizona Museum of Art more than three decades after a man and woman swiped the work of art in 1985. However, the painting held a significant place in the art world well before the audacious theft.

When “Woman-Ochre” goes on exhibit at the museum on Saturday, Oct. 8, visitors will have the opportunity to take in one of the most important examples of abstract expressionism, which was the United States’ first big painting movement.

“Woman-Ochre,” which de Kooning finished in 1955, displays the vigorous brushwork that was a staple of his art while also highlighting his meticulous approach to his work.

Paul Ivey, professor in the UArizona College of Fine Arts‘ School of Art, shared four things you may not have known about “Woman-Ochre” and de Kooning:

De Kooning started with a different kind of painting when he first came to the United States.

De Kooning was born in the Netherlands in 1904 and moved to the United States in 1926.

“When de Kooning came to America, he didn’t think there was any painting here – he thought that art was something they only had in Europe,” Ivey said.

When he arrived in New Jersey, de Kooning found work as a house painter. Ivey said the artist’s time in that job had an influence on the materials he used as he grew as a painter.

“He used oil paints mostly,” Ivey said. “‘Woman-Ochre’ is an oil painting. He often used house paints that he was familiar with. While many artists of the time used paint from tubes, he often used paint from cans.”

“Woman-Ochre” was a late addition to a series of paintings that put de Kooning on the map.

De Kooning was one of the better-known artists from the abstract expressionist movement, which emerged in New York in the 1940s. The style is defined in part by expressive brushstrokes and the impression of spontaneity.

De Kooning became a major player in the movement with his “Woman” series – a collection of six paintings focused on the female figure that he produced from 1950-1953.

“Woman-Ochre,” which de Kooning finished in 1955, displays the vigorous brushwork that was a staple of his art while also highlighting his meticulous approach to his work.

“The ‘Woman’ series, when it was shown, was highly controversial and really put him on the map,” Ivey said. “Some saw it as anti-abstract expressionism because it had a figure in it, but he defended himself, saying that even abstract forms needed a likeness.”

Prof. Paul Ivey

“Woman-Ochre,” which de Kooning finished in 1955, displays the vigorous brushwork that was a staple of his art while also highlighting his meticulous approach to his work.

“The people who worked in his studio said he was a very deliberate painter,” Ivey explained. “It looks like it’s just slapdash, but in fact he was fairly slow. He would have really fast moments where he would paint, but then he’d step back, sometimes even for a day, before he’d go back in.”

The inspirations for “Woman-Ochre” came nearly 30,000 years apart.

The female form fascinated de Kooning, Ivey said, and he found two sources of inspiration for his “Woman” series, separated by tens of thousands of years of history.

“He collected advertising for cigarettes where you would often see buxom women with very large smiles, although ‘Woman-Ochre’ doesn’t have the smile he often used,” Ivey said. “He also looked back at ritual sculptures and pre-historical works of buxom and rounded women that were seen as early fertility symbols.”

An example of the ancient artwork that fascinated de Kooning is the Venus of Willendorf, a nearly 30,000-year-old figurine discovered over 100 years ago in an Austrian village.

“Woman-Ochre” is a centerpiece of a lasting legacy at the museum.

“Woman-Ochre” is one of the centerpieces of a substantial art donation made to the University of Arizona Museum of Art by Baltimore businessman Edward Gallagher Jr. as a memorial to his son, Edward Gallagher III, who died in an accident at age 13. The collection contains nearly 200 works of art that were donated between 1954 and 1978.

“You can’t underestimate the significance of the Gallagher collection,” Ivey said.

As for why Gallagher chose the University of Arizona Museum of Art, Ivey said Tucson had a special place in Gallagher’s heart.

“Gallagher started to collect artwork during that era. He would come out here to go to dude ranches during the winter, so it was the tourism of the area that attracted him to Tucson,” Ivey said.


“Restored: The Return of ‘Woman-Ochre’” will be on exhibit at UAMA Oct. 8-May 20. More information is available at the Arizona Arts website.

Tenorio honors Nicaragua, wins Indigenous design award

Creating art is helping Erika Tenorio honor the University of Arizona student’s Nicaraguan-Mexican Indigenous heritage and grandmother, who died from COVID a year ago.

Not only is the two-spirit senior working on a printmaking project this semester titled “Linda Nicaragua, Mi Nicaraguita,” but one of Tenorio’s designs was chosen by the university’s Indigenous Cats Association to mark Indigenous People’s Day in October 2022.

Erika Tenorio

Tenorio, who is double-majoring in Studio Art Illustration and Latin American Studies while minoring in American Indian Studies, was an inaugural scholar for the LAS department’s first-ever Central American Certificate Program.

In July 2021, Tenorio created a “caballa bayo,” a traditional Nicaraguan ceramic item, used to keep food on top of a dish warm. For the student’s paternal grandmother, it was the last image of Tenorio’s artwork she saw before dying two months later.

“My grandma said, ‘It’s beautiful to see you creating artworks about where you come from, whether it’s from this side of the family or your maternal family. It warms my heart – you are our family’s matriarch storyteller and will continue on the traditions,’” Tenorio said.

Tenorio’s father fled Nicaragua in the 1980s to escape fighting tied to the Contra War. Tenorio’s indigenous heritage draws from three communities: Chorotega (Nicaragua), paternal; and Tohono O’odham (Mexico) and Yaqui or Yo’eme (Mexico), maternal.

Born in Tucson, Tenorio saw few Nicaraguans or Central Americans while growing up in Arizona.

“Living in a predominant Mexican population, my father explained he had no choice but to assimilate to Mexican culture and Spanish when he arrived in the states because he stood out with his appearance and dialect,” Tenorio said. “In doing so, he forgot his Nicaraguan Spanish and culture for the most part.”

That’s one reason Tenorio is using artwork to “show the heritage I carry.”

For the independent study printmaking project, Tenorio is working with Professor Karen Zimmermann, assistant director of the School of Art, with possible topics of Indigenous history, identity, social politics and folklores.

“I’ll be carving my drawn images onto a linoleum block and carving it by hand, and finally moving the block onto the printmaking press,” Tenorio said. “The timing is tedious but very fun at the same time.”

Sculpture by Erika Tenorio

As for her classes at the School of Art, “they are simply great,” Tenorio said. “I get to learn in different fields – design, typography, illustration, sculpture, ceramics, painting, figure drawing, etc. – and get to apply it to my artworks. Some professors have made me appreciate more of what I am capable of and … to think outside the box.”

Tenorio is proud of the winning design for Indigenous People’s Day, which will be included on T-shirts.

“I included a part of myself into the design,” said Tenorio, referring to a red, green, white and black flower at the top – a design used by the Chorotegas in Nicaragua. “This also shows that a Latino-Indigenous person such as myself exists and is capable of creating any representation works, whether its Central American, Mexican or Indigenous related.”

Tenorio joined the university’s Native Student Outreach Access and Resiliency (SOAR) program as a mentor – teaching Indigenous students from the Southwest about painting and sketching. Tenorio also helped other SOAR instructors gain a connection with Indigenous college students in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“With my community connections of the Tohono O’odham nation and Pascua Yaqui nation by my spouse and his family (O’odham), my family, friends and Indigenous communities on social media, it’s been healing to reconnect and actively help my family and Indigenous community in general,” Tenorio said, “and help those who are Indigenous outside of the global north and teach others that our relatives exist outside of the global north.”

A mother and child sculpture by Erika Tenorio

After graduation, Tenorio hopes to keep making ceramics, which the Chorotegas are known for in Nicaragua.

Tenorio recently created a ceramic work of a mother and child, which “is about me and my son!”

“It’s almost identical,” Tenorio said, “to the one I made in sculpture of a mother holding her infant child – representing my father when he was an infant and my grandmother.”

That bronze sculpture now rests with Tenorio’s grandmother at her tomb in Nicaragua.

• Watch a video of Erika Tenorio for Native American Heritage Month,


Tenorio read the Land Acknowledgement on Nov. 15, 2022, at the Pima County Board of Supervisors Meeting.

“Koi muriό, S-ke:g taṣ, Tui taewai, Buenas, my name is Erika Tenorio, I am Central-American Mexican Indigenous and come from the Chorotega, Yaqui, and Tohono O’odham communities respectively. I’m an undergraduate senior studying at The University of Arizona where I’m double majoring in Studio Art Illustration, Latin American Studies, and minoring in American Indian Studies. Many of my works, both essays and artwork wise, revolve around my Central American, Mexican, Indigenous backgrounds; therefore the representations and acknowledgement is very important in a colonial diaspora. Kupa kastai, S-ap’o, Chiokoe uttesia, Gracias!”

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